The war of words between members of Pulella Gopichand’s camp and Jwala Gutta’s supporters intensified.
In a diatribe defending the former All-England champion, the SAI director-general Injeti Srinivas said:
“We firmly stand by Gopi. His credentials as player, coach and administrator cannot be questioned. His contribution to the game is unparalleled and cannot be nullified by such unjustified outburst by an athlete. Having said that, Jwala’s allegations against him are in bad taste.”
“These comments are unfair and baseless. In the last TOP committee meeting, it was Gopi who urged the identification committee to bring all deserving doubles pairs in badminton into the scheme, including the duo. Earlier, he was the driving force behind the game getting a specialist foreign coach in doubles. Disappointment is one thing. But criticising an accomplished person such as Gopi openly without ascertaining facts is not fair. There are certain ‘Laxman rekhas’ that she should be aware of.”
Srinivas claimed that there is no ‘conflict-of-interest‘ in Gopichand being the chief national coach and the majority of players selected hailing from his academy in Hyderabad.
“It is not that the national coach has canvassed for his membership in the TOP committee or his academy to be made a national training centre. We thrust it on him and he has delivered.
We treat all athletes equally. No discrimination has been made whether it is in international exposure or training. Jwala and Ashwini have performed with complete support from the government.”
What Gopichand has singlehandedly wrought for the game of badminton in India in the past decade almost matches what the Chinese accomplished with their unstinting support and accompanying infrastructure over the last three decades.
While it is true that a doubles specialist coach, Tan Kim Her of Malaysia, has been appointed till the 2020 Olympics, this does not appear to have been communicated to the very players who would benefit from it most.
Speaking at a promotional event in Mumbai on Sunday, Jwala’s partner Ashwini Ponappa said:
“It’s doing the rounds but I know absolutely nothing about the status of the appointment. It would definitely help if we had a separate coach for doubles. But what would also be good is if we have a separate camp for doubles. If you’re good at singles, you don’t need to be forced to play doubles just to make up the numbers.”
“Most juniors end up choosing singles because of the immense support and attention they are promised. You can’t blame them for choosing to do so. Nor can you force them to play doubles. Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy are doing well and it’s good to see that ours isn’t the only doubles pair winning tournaments. I think the reason why other countries are doing well is because they have separate coaches for singles as well as doubles and even mixed doubles. When we talk about us lacking that extra edge when it comes to playing them, I think this is what we’re talking about.”
“I’ve read in the papers that they are looking to support us, but I don’t think I will have much to say until it actually happens. It’s never too late to give us the facilities that we are asking for. To begin with, the two of us train in different cities. While I train at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, Jwala trains in Hyderabad. We don’t have a physio. We pay for our own nutritionists, supplements and trainers. The other players who are a part of TOPS get everything they need. Things do get a lot expensive for us. You then start taking your body for granted by pushing it because you want to play more tournaments.I don’t think they are getting the right advice. You have four singles players when you can have only two participating in the Olympics. Not only are these guys taking two extra players who won’t qualify, but they are also not supporting a proven doubles pair. It just doesn’t make sense. After the fiasco that happened in 2012, the last thing Jwala and I want is not to participate in the Rio Games.”
“For doubles, the top 16 pairs will qualify and we have to be there. Ideally, we want to be in the top 10. The qualifying process started in May and ends exactly a year later. There are quite a few tournaments (coming up), but anything can happen. There’s still a long way to go. Our next goal is to do well at the BWF World Championships in Jakarta in August.”
When Jwala Gutta first made her plaints public that she and her partner Ashwini Ponnappa were denied aid under the ‘Target Olympic Podium’ (TOP) scheme of the Union government because they were not under Pulella Gopichand’s tutelage, most probably dismissed it as a case of sour grapes.
Their recent exploits at the US and Canadian Opens have nailed that lie.
A semi-final finish at the US Open was followed by a title win in Canada.
From a Times of India report:
“A top ministry source told TOI:
‘When we analyzed the performance of Jwala and Ashwini in the recent past, we realised they had not made much impact. They had won medals at the Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Championships in 2014 but we were looking for a consistent streak this year,’ the source said.
‘In the last meeting, we put the duo on watch. We decided that if they come up with a creditable performance we will include them in the scheme. After the Canada Open victory, the committee will take a more positive view about Jwala and Ashwini.'”
It seems to be a case of either or both:
Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu, P. Kashyap, K. Srikanth (allotted Rs. 90 lakh each) , Gurusaidutt and H.S. Prannoy (allotted Rs. 60 lakh each) are the shuttlers currently selected under the scheme.
“I don’t know what to do really. I hope that they are at least thinking about it (funding) right now. This is what. Being a player, I am supposed to train and practice and only think about my game, what I have to develop and what weaknesses I have to take care of.
Instead if I have to go to Delhi, spend a day, two or three, go behind them. This is what we should not be doing. We are the best bet in doubles for Olympics and we should be given all the support. At least after the Canadian Open, I hope people and the ministry of sports realise and support us. That’s all we need.
Lot of players are performing, including singles, only because of government funding. If government does not fund, lot of players will be lost. We are really depending on the government. This TOP [Target Olympic Podium] scheme is that extra boost.
Definitely [absence of government support would make it tough for the players to get into doubles]. After Ashwini and me, I don’t see anybody else coming up. You can see it. I stopped playing mixed doubles and there is no result in mixed doubles. I was world number six. People who are talking about me and my performance and questioning my career and my achievements, where is the next mixed doubles pair, please show it to me. I would like to know.”
Controversy has always dogged the glam girl of Indian women’s badminton.
From her turbulent personal life whence she married and divorced another shuttler Chetan Anand and had to counter media speculation about an affair with former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin, her much publicized run-ins with the Badminton Association of India (BAI) satraps and her successful overturning of a life-ban for disruptive conduct while representing and leading Delhi Smashers at the Indian Badminton League (IBL), Gutta has always been at the forefront of any criticism of administration in her sport.
The firebrand activist also presents a glamorous front on social media with her Facebook photos drawing thousands if not more likes every time she dons a fresh and colorful outfit.
Will Gutta have her way?
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is firmly on her side.
In a missive to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rao wrote:
“Jwala Gutta, the badminton player who is currently ranked 13th in the world, has brought laurels to the country on many occasions by winning tournaments at the international level.
She is the first-ever Indian woman to have won a medal at the world championships and the only Indian in the Indian history of Olympics to qualify for two events.”
In another salvo at the BAI post her Canada win, the fiery doubles specialist said:
“I am fearless, both off and and on the court. Then on court, I play. People don’t like to hear what I have to say. I don’t think I need to change anything now. My coach and father (Kranti) never told me to change.
Without any support of coach, shuttles, physio, we have been performing at an international level. On the other hand, the singles players get all the support. They have masseurs, sparring partners, shuttles and don’t spend a single penny when they go out. On the contrary, we have to spend money even for our laundry. I’m not complaining but at the same time they should think about us. Why target only Ashwini and me?
After all I am a human being. Initially I used to get affected but not any more. Badminton has become popular in the country not because of singles players but also because of doubles performance. We performed at the highest level.
We are very disheartened that we were not in the TOP scheme. It has become a habit. But this is a good way to answer the critics.”
Launching another broadside at Pulella Gopichand—the chief national coach, Jwala said:
“I end up cribbing after each win, ‘cos that’s the only time people are ready to listen and understand what I am saying. Ashwini and I have achieved so much in our career, but have never gotten our due and it is just because of one person – Gopichand. We are World No. 13 now, but instead of supporting us, he is only pulling us down. So, I want to speak now in the hope that this win will get us included in the TOP Scheme.
It seems the whole country is rejoicing over our Canadian Open win except the chief national coach. It is overwhelming that everyone from President, Prime Minister, Chief Minister, the Sports Minister’s Office to well-wishers have sent Ashwini (Ponnappa) and me congratulatory messages. But there was just no acknowledgement from Gopichand. it matters to me because he is the top administrator. He should be happy about this win.
The chief national coach is responsible for every single player. Ashwini and I won bronze at the BWF World Championships in 2011, a gold and silver at 2010 and 2014 CWG, both firsts for the country. Yet, we are not included in the TOP Scheme! Why? Just because we are not from Gopi’s academy? Is it fair that Gurusai Datt’s name is in TOP Scheme? (He is ranked No. 43). If the government or Gopi thinks the highest ranked women’s doubles team of India isn’t good enough to take a bet on for Olympics, there is something seriously wrong. I think he should step down.”
Jwala’s partner, Ponappa added:
“The chief national coach should actually be the one who is most proud of this win and be the first to congratulate us. But that’s not the case when it comes to Jwala and me. And that just means there is something wrong. If he was someone who treated all players equally, I think he would be happy that we won gold at the Canadian Open. And if he can’t do that, if he can’t be equal and fair to all players, I totally stand by what Jwala said – Gopichand should step down as the chief national coach.”
Pulella Gopichand responded to Jwala’s allegations thus:
“Okay, let me take this opportunity to say that I would like to congratulate Jwala on her great victory at the Canadian Open. Their event wrapped up on Sunday and they came back on Tuesday night. I sent representatives from the Rangareddy Association, of which I am president, to receive Jwala at the airport. on Wednesday morning, Jwala says she hasn’t received a congratulatory message from me! It’s not like it has been a week already! I am not on Twitter or Facebook, so I can’t post messages online. I was at the President’s dinner on Tuesday. Maybe, I would have messaged her today, but if I do that now, it will look like I did it because she complained!
As for me stepping down, well, Jwala has no moral standing to say that, because we have always supported her. She has gone for 200 tournaments or more in the last 10 years and if I don’t propose her name, how would she go? If she says I haven’t supported her, let her specify. If it is about sponsors, come on, I am not responsible for players getting sponsors. And even if I were to do that, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a sponsor for someone who speaks ill of me. I think my actions and performance speaks for me. I do my job very well, whether it was as a player, or now as the chief national coach.”
The merits of Gutta’s circumstances cannot be denied.
Will the concerned authorities act now and ensure that future decisions are not prejudiced?
Or is that more than sports lovers can hope for in the morass that is Indian sports administration?
The questions remain.
The answers are staring us in the face.